There are a few hot topics out there in publishing right now and Sara is tackling a big one – shopping a previously self-published title. In her straightforward, smart, and insightful manner, Sara gives us the info we need.
Shopping self published titles
“Dear Sara Megibow, I am the author of a self-published novel receiving great reviews and enjoying very strong sales. I’m interested in working with a literary agent to move on to the next step and sell this book to a major NY publishing house. Would you be interested?”
Our agency fields 5-10 of these queries a day on average. It’s an interesting dilemma and one filled with controversy. (Which makes it an excellent blog topic, yes?)
No. As of today, I am not interesting in representing self-published novels. (Ok, go ahead and throw rotten tomatoes, I’m ready).
#1 – “Very strong sales” typically aren’t. Most queries don’t mention a number, but when they do it’s typically something like 500 units in a year. I don’t call that “very strong.” To me, if a self-published title has sold 10,000 units or more in a year, then those are big enough numbers to catch my attention (and that’s 10,000 units sold for money, not 10,000 freebies).
#2 – Platform. Another problem I have with many queries I see for self-published novels is the author’s platform. Often, if I check out who the author is, I find blog posts talking about how awful traditional publishing is and how great self-publishing has been instead. Certainly this is not true in every case, but by now it has happened often enough that it’s made an impression on me. And certainly I agree that traditional publishing can be hard and self-publishing can be awesome! Self-published authors who are asking an agent to re-sell their book in NY shouldn’t have visible anti-NY-publishing posts up on their blog though. That seems obvious to me. I feel that many authors have joined a traditional-publishing-is-bad bandwagon that is based more on slamming my way of doing business than it is based on exploring what’s great about their way. Maybe my way is bad and their way is good, but then why would they want to work with me as their agent? Probably this is not you, the Romance U reader, but it’s enough people out there that it warrants a mention.
#3 – The contract. Sadly, I can’t copy and paste my clients’ contracts here. HOW I wish I could! But, I will paraphrase. If you’ve previously published your novel and want a major publishing house to acquire you, then you would have to sign a major publishing house contract. Most contracts have a warranty clause that reads something like this (I can’t post directly, so I am paraphrasing here):
Author promises to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the Work has not previously been published in whole or in part; (iii) the Author has not granted other rights to this Work that would encumber (iv) etc.
The tricky part is that many self-publishing contracts don’t require the Author to sign away the rights. So, an Author shops this self-published book to an Agent assuming that they own their rights (which they do). Unfortunately, they don’t know or don’t understand that major publishers still won’t want to acquire their book because those rights are encumbered. I know it’s confusing and frustrating, but in essence – even if you’ve retained your rights, that doesn’t mean someone else will want them.
There ARE ways around the warranty clause (primarily by being upfront about where a project exists for sale or online). But, this is a business and it’s important to understand the legal ramifications of self-publishing before doing it. Even if some company says “we’ll make you a book and won’t acquire your print rights”, those rights have been exercised in a way that may prevent re-sale.
#4 – Do I love the book? Ultimately, I would make an exception to all these rules if I absolutely loved a book. In fact, my boss offered representation just last week to an author with a self-published novel. So, there are always exceptions. But, I would still have to love the book (which means loving the query letter and loving the sample pages and loving the full manuscript) just as much as I love any of my clients’ books in order to offer representation.
How does this affect you?
#1 – If you’ve self-published your novel and now want to shop it to a traditional publishing house, let the agent or editor know directly in your query letter. I’m on the more conservative end of agenting, so I might not be the right fit for this kind of project, but other agents don’t have my same philosophy.
#2 – If you’ve self-published a previous novel and are now shopping your next book (one that isn’t published anywhere), then you don’t need to mention your history in the query letter. BUT, if you have an agent offer representation for this second book, my recommendation would be to let them know upfront (so they can check your platform).
#3 – If you think traditional publishing is worse than bad dog breath, fine. But, if you’re looking for an agent or editor, then remove those posts from your blog before going out on submission.
#4 – If you are trying to decide whether or not you want to go the traditional route or the self-publishing route, then keep doing your research. There are TONS of great reasons to self-publish (the ability to go to market quickly, control over price point, self-promotions, writing to a niche market, selling backlist titles whose rights have reverted to you, writing material that supports and promotes your traditionally published books, etc). But, understand all the ramifications before pressing “sell” (the most important ramification being that in most cases a self-published novel will not be resold to a traditional publisher).
Oh . . . yes, she went there! The sticky questions surrounding self-publishing are on the table and you’ve got a really savvy lady to ask . . . what are you waiting for?
Come back on Friday to check out the post by editor Theresa Stevens.
Too much temptation…
When Lily Wellstone heads to the Bitterward Estate to comfort her widowed friend Eugenia, she certainly does not have romance in mind. In fact the playful but level-headed Lily is amused to no end when, en route, a Gypsy gifts her with a beautiful medallion, claiming it will ensnare the romantic desires of a stranger.
But Fate has other plans in the form of Eugenia’s ruggedly handsome brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. One day at Bitterward and Lily can’t deny the sizzling attraction between her and the roguish Duke. Nothing can come of it, of course. She’s not looking for entanglements and he’s practically engaged. But whether it’s her outgoing nature and the duke’s outlandish ways sparking off one another, or the mysterious Gypsy medallion working “magic,” hearts are stirring in the most unexpected and wicked ways…
Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC
Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.
Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http://http://www.nelsonagency.com/for submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site (www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/SaraMegibow) is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibowHow an agent chooses what books to read.
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